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London’s Parliament Square Just Unveiled Its First Statue of a Woman. What You Should Know About Honoree Millicent Fawcett

April 24, 2018, 12:08 PM UTC

Millicent Fawcett just became the first woman to have a statue erected in her likeness in London’s Parliament Square.

The bronze statue, unveiled Tuesday, was designed by artist Gillian Wearing, who in so doing, became the first female sculptor to have a piece displayed there.

The statue of Fawcett secured a spot on London’s iconic plaza a century after women in the U.K. won the right to vote—a cause that had been her life’s work.

Fawcett helped found a group called the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which “believed in using non-violent tactics to persuade the government that women deserved the right to vote too,” according to the BBC.

The group, who became known as suffragists, held meetings, wrote letters, and signed petitions, demanding that women get the right to vote. Their efforts bore fruit in one hundred years ago when women were granted the vote in 1918.

Fawcett was born in 1847 in Suffolk. At age 12, she was sent to London to study at a private boarding school. While living in London, Fawcett heard John Stuart Mill speak about equal rights for women. The speech, combined with her elder sister’s struggles to obtain medical qualifications, prompted Fawcett to throw herself into the suffrage movement.

Black veil is pulled off statue to reveal Millicent Fawcett's likeness
Fawcett’s statue joins 11 honoring men in London’s iconic Parliament Square. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

“I cannot say I became a suffragist,” she later wrote. “I always was one, from the time I was old enough to think at all about the principles of Representative Government.” Fawcett died in London in 1929.

Feminist writer and activist Caroline Criado Perez pushed for the inclusion of Fawcett in Parliament Square after going for a run through the square in 2016 and realizing that there were no women represented. Perez then started a petition, which gained 85,000 signatures.

This year marks 100 years since women first got the right to vote in the U.K. The anniversary was seen as a fitting moment to erect a statue honoring one of the key actors in the suffrage movement. Fawcett’s likeness will be displayed outside the House of Parliament, where elected representatives make decisions on behalf of the country.

Fawcett’s statue will join the 11 men already represented in the square, including Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln. Surrounded by the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the Supreme Court, and executive offices, the square has long been both a tourist attraction and a center for demonstrations. The names and portraits of 59 men and women who also campaigned for women’s right to vote will be inscribed in the base of Fawcett’s statue.